Reading Biblical Literature: Genesis to Revelation

Course No. 6650
Professor Craig R. Koester, Ph.D.
Luther Seminary
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Course No. 6650
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What Will You Learn?

  • Gain a fresh perspective on how God creates, destroys, confuses, and renews.
  • See how the events in Exodus have resonated throughout subsequent history.
  • Read between the lines of David's early triumphs, his relationship with God, his infidelity and brutality, and the tragic shattering of relationships within his own family.
  • Learn how these two important biblical heroes respectively illustrate the value of human initiative and the call for resistance against injustice and oppression.
  • Consider some narrative and spiritual challenges faced by the writer of The Acts of the Apostles.

Course Overview

Rightly recognized as one of the world’s most important spiritual texts, the Bible has shaped thousands of years of faith, art, and human history. Yet for all of its importance to believers and non-believers alike, we rarely engage with the Bible as a collection of unique narratives that were only later united into what we now know as the Old and New Testaments. And these different texts—historical narratives, dramatic visions, poems, songs, letters—speak to a broad range of experience, from joy and wonder to tragedy and mystery.

The diversity of material in biblical books like Exodus, Isaiah, Psalms, Mark, and Revelation that has prompted people throughout history (from religious scholars to celebrated artists to everyday worshippers) to ponder and debate the meaning of these classic texts. To truly understand and appreciate the Bible’s many perspectives on faith, war, suffering, love, memory, community, and other enduring themes, it is enlightening to use a literary approach to reading and thinking about these separate books.

  • What do you learn when you consider biblical books with a focus on their settings, narrative structures, characterizations, images, and themes?
  • How do various biblical books offer quite different responses to events and issues, challenging readers to think of them in bold new ways?
  • How does this respectful perspective help us better understand the early history of Judaism and Christianity, as well as the roots of religious belief?

Enjoy an intellectual adventure like no other in Reading Biblical Literature, which offers a comprehensive, book-by-book analysis of the Bible from the fascinating perspective of literature and narrative. Delivered by religion scholar and acclaimed professor, Dr. Craig R. Koester of Luther Seminary, these 36 lectures guide you through ancient stories, empowering you to engage with the books of the Bible as richly meaningful texts. From the stories of figures like Moses and King David to the gospel accounts of Jesus and the formation of the earliest Christian communities, this course offers an unforgettably vivid sense of the Bible as a tale filled with complex characters, dramatic conflicts, universal themes, inspirational wisdom, hidden meanings, revolutionary crises, and powerful life lessons. No wonder it’s considered the greatest story ever told.

Begin “In the Beginning…”

Composed over the span of 10 centuries, the books of the Bible are today divided into those of the Old Testament (known to some as the Jewish Bible) and the New Testament (the cornerstone of the Christian faith). But there’s no need to be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the Bible. Reading Biblical Literature lets you encounter these books in a manner that’s accessible and engaging.

Professor Koester begins these lectures at the only appropriate place: with the creation of the universe as recounted in the book of Genesis. From there, you’ll plunge into Old Testament plotlines dealing with migration and exile, slavery and deliverance, anticipation and disappointment, conflict and reconciliation. It’s the story of the formation of the people of Israel, and along the way you’ll reconsider your ideas about a variety of biblical figures, moments, and ideas ranging from the familiar to the often overlooked.

  • One tower, many stories: At surprising moments in Genesis, God comes to regret ever creating humankind. One instance of this is the famous story of the construction of the tower of Babel. As you’ll investigate, it can be read in different ways: as a sort of folk tale, a critique of ancient society, and a commentary on humanity’s refusal to live within limits. The multiple levels of possible meaning create a more deeply significant story.
  • Abraham’s funny fallibility: One aspect that is often overlooked in reading Abraham’s life story is the inherent humor in it. There are certainly points where Abraham is portrayed as faithful and courageous, but he also appears as someone who can be woefully short-sighted, whose actions create as many problems as they solve. And yet this familiar trait makes the biblical patriarch all the more engaging, and all the more human.
  • King Saul vs. King Macbeth: The rise and fall of Israel’s first king, Saul, is a tale of ambition and arrogance similar to that of the medieval king Macbeth in Shakespeare’s eponymous play. There are machinations and prophecies of doom, political paranoia and the drive for power, and even a witch. Ultimately, in both worlds, people must deal with the consequences of their actions—and the will of God.
  • Words of wisdom: The Old Testament is packed with writings that form the core of the Bible’s wisdom literature, collected in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. The first book offers advice on how to lead a prosperous and meaningful life, the second is an unsettling and thought-provoking reflection on the emptiness of success, and the third challenges the idea that life is fair and suffering is meted out by God in proportion to wrongdoing. Each of these books, you’ll learn, is in conversation with one another on many levels.

Explore the “New” World of the New Testament

Whereas the Old Testament focused on Israel’s ancestors, kings, and prophets from the second and first millennia BC, the New Testament takes as its predominant focus the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth—as well as his followers and the dawn of the earliest Christian communities in the first centuries AD.

Reading Biblical Literature takes you deep inside this revolutionary moment in human history as it is recounted in the Bible’s pages. Throughout, Professor Koester focuses on enduring themes of suffering, service, death, hope, and rebirth. How does the narrative of Jesus and his follows expand upon, or respond to, similar themes established in the Old Testament? This key question leads you to revisit (or visit for the first time) iconic moments in the Bible in the company of a master scholar.

  • One life, four gospels: The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are each devoted to recounting the story of Jesus and his relationship to the God of Israel. Yet each book tells the story in a unique way, and the differences offer an intriguing range of perspectives on who Jesus was. From their accounts of Jesus’s teachings to the drama of his crucifixion and resurrection, each gospel follows a distinctive plotline. Through scenes of conflict and redemption, readers are taken more deeply into the question of Jesus’s identity and impact on those who followed him.
  • Apostolic Acts: One book you spend time with in this course is the Acts of the Apostles, which tells the story of the first followers of Jesus and the establishment of the early church. Written by the same person who wrote the gospel of Luke, this book narrates the struggle that early Christians faced as they tried to come to grips with their role in larger Jewish, Greek, and Roman society.
  • Pauline correspondence: Paul is considered to be one of the most controversial figures in the New Testament, if not the entire Bible. Professor Koester devotes several lectures to unpacking his letters to Christians in the ancient world, including 1 and 2 Corinthians. One theme in these letters is that of divine love. If love is shown by giving, writes Paul, then Jesus’s crucifixion shows God performing the utmost act of self-giving.
  • The end of days: Revelation, the last book of the Bible, uses the stirring visions of conflict and hope as a commentary on the nature of good and evil. Here, God is portrayed as a creator and Satan as a destroyer, a contrast that is essential for the writer’s understanding of evil. The writer of Revelation assumes that God created the world to be good. Therefore, evil is an invading cancer that must be defeated in order to bring new life to the world.

Join an Ongoing Spiritual and Literary Conversation

Adept at explaining each book’s meaning and highlighting its literary beauty, Professor Koester transforms the encounter with these ancient texts into a grand learning experience that’s equal parts educational and entertaining. A biblical scholar and noted author, he brings to Reading Biblical Literature the same incisive insights he’s brought to his academic work, including commentaries on the books of Hebrews and Revelation, as well as major studies of John’s gospel.

While his goal is to uncover and examine the Bible’s multiple perspectives, and to present the books of the Old and New Testament as narratives that can be studied the same way one would study any great work of literature, Professor Koester always highlights the spiritual importance these stories have had for people and communities throughout the world. Engaging in a dialogue with these multiple readings and voices brings a greater appreciation of just how intricate, vibrant, and abidingly meaningful the Bible is.

“My hope with this course is that, by tending to the different viewpoints within the Bible, readers of all sorts might find promising avenues to explore,” he says. “As we share our perspectives with those of others, we join a conversation that’s ongoing. It’s one that I find both challenging and enlivening. May that be true for you as well.”

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Bible as Dialogue
    Start your immersive journey into the books of the Old and New Testaments with this illuminating introductory lecture. By breaking down the Bible into its different books and narrative styles, you'll start to think of it not as a single book-but rather as a fascinating dialogue spanning centuries. x
  • 2
    Creation and Chaos in Genesis
    [Genesis 1-11] Travel back to biblical accounts of the dawn of time in Genesis and start to think critically about how its stories work as a narrative. By unpacking familiar tales from the book's first 11 chapters, you'll gain a fresh perspective on how God creates, destroys, confuses, and renews. x
  • 3
    Abraham, Sarah, and the Promise
    [Genesis 12-25] Abraham's spiritual legacy is nothing short of profound-yet his story also includes some little-appreciated humor. Delve into the biblical text and consider how Israel's patriarch is portrayed in Genesis 12-25. How is the overarching theme of promises reflected in his relationships with Sarah, Isaac, and God? Get to know Abraham as both exemplary and short-sighted-a much more relatable and well-rounded figure. x
  • 4
    Jacob, Joseph, and Reconciliation
    [Genesis 25-50] According to Professor Koester, the biblical stories of Jacob and Joseph are rooted in perennial themes of familial conflict and reconciliation. In this lecture, ponder the significance of disguises and dreams: how they propel the narrative forward and how they reflect the underlying mystery of God's will. x
  • 5
    Moses and the Drama of the Exodus
    [Exodus 1-15] Both encouraging and threatening, Exodus 1 15 is one of the Bible's most thrilling stories. First, consider the story's literary setting (and its surprising humor). Then, discover its focus on two different forms of power: God's and pharaoh's. Finally, see how the events in Exodus have resonated throughout subsequent history. x
  • 6
    Freedom and Law at Mount Sinai
    [Exodus 16-40] What happens after an enslaved people are set free? How is freedom lived out? Continue exploring Exodus with chapters 16 40, in which ancient laws and ideas of freedom begin to take root. Along the way, you'll study different interpretations of manna" and break down the different groupings of the Ten Commandments." x
  • 7
    Israel's Wandering in the Wilderness
    [Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy] Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy-three biblical books everyday readers find challenging to read and relate to their own lives. But with Professor Koester's insights, you'll come to see these books (with all their strange ancient rituals) as vital to a complete understanding of the Bible's narrative movement from Mount Sinai to the edge of the Promised Land. x
  • 8
    Violence and Kindness in the Promised Land
    [Joshua, Judges, Ruth] Turn now to Joshua, Judges, and Ruth, which challenge the idea of the Promised Land as a place of simple peace and prosperity. In comparing these three books, you'll witness disturbing accounts of violent conquest and explore the tragic consequences of that violence, and yet you'll also encounter remarkable instances of acceptance and welcome of foreigners. x
  • 9
    Saul, the Tragic King
    [1 Samuel] Why is the story of King Saul, who united Israel's twelve tribes, one of the world's great tragedies? Find out in this lecture, which approaches 1 Samuel as a three-act drama recounting Saul's rise to power as Israel's first king-and the path of his tragic, Shakespearean downfall. x
  • 10
    David and Nation Building
    [2 Samuel] Go beyond the heroic portrayals of David in Western art to reveal the vibrant heart of the fascinating figure described in 2 Samuel. You'll read between the lines of David's early triumphs, his relationship with God, his infidelity and brutality, and the tragic shattering of relationships within his own family. x
  • 11
    Solomon, a Study in Contradictions
    [1 Kings 1-11] Throughout the story of Solomon in 1 Kings, splendor and oppression go hand in hand. Were all the impressive results of Solomon's monarchy (including his iconic temple) worth the human suffering? Consider this perplexing question as you encounter a king who was both ruthless and wise. x
  • 12
    Psalms: The Bible's Songbook
    [Psalms] Packed with poems, prayers, and song lyrics, the Bible's 150 psalms are an evocative blend of hope, despair, anger, and contemplation. Here, consider the four different types found in the book of Psalms: songs of praise, prayers for help, psalms of gratitude, and psalms expressing trust. x
  • 13
    Biblical Wisdom Literature
    [Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job] Questions about the meaning of life abound in the Bible's books of wisdom literature: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. Join Professor Koester as he unpacks each book's distinctive character and outlook, the answers it offers to life's questions (sometimes straightforward, sometimes nebulous), and its contribution to a fascinating dialogue on how to live. x
  • 14
    Elijah, the Troubler of Israel
    [1 and 2 Kings] Continue on to 1 and 2 Kings and follow the story of the prophet Elijah. You'll examine his challenges to the god Baal, his flair for street theater, his tendency toward self-absorption, his earthly departure in a whirlwind, and, most important, his story's promise of a new beginning. x
  • 15
    Justice and Love in Amos and Hosea
    [Amos, Hosea] Discover how the prophets Amos and Hosea shattered the idea of spiritual indifference. First, learn how Amos portrayed a God committed to social justice and a society where people were treated decently. Then, learn Hosea's views on a rejected, angry God who wants to be reconciled with the people he loves. x
  • 16
    Isaiah on Defiant Hope
    [Isaiah] Go beyond the book of Isaiah's prophetic imagery to focus on the narrative's powerful, lasting visions of hope-and some of its disturbing passages on warfare and injustice. As you'll discover, these contradictions offer numerous challenges and rewards for the attentive reader who refuses to give in to despair. x
  • 17
    Jeremiah on Anguish and Compassion
    [Jeremiah] The book of Jeremiah takes as its goal the reconciliation between God and Israel. How does the prophet hope to achieve this? Find out by studying Jeremiah's vision of national transformation in the context of the larger geopolitics of ancient Israel-and the collision point of love, anger, grief, and longing. x
  • 18
    Babylonian Conquest and Exile
    [2 Kings, Lamentations, Habakkuk] In 587 BC, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. Explore the trauma of this cataclysmic moment through three biblical books: 2 Kings, which tries to explain the events of the loss of Jerusalem; Lamentations, which gives voice to the anger and grief of exile; and Habakkuk, which helps us come to terms with life's unanswered questions. x
  • 19
    Ezekiel on Abandonment and Homecoming
    [Ezekiel] Experience the dislocation of the Babylonian Exile with a close reading of the book of Ezekiel's perspectives on abandonment and homecoming. You'll trace this movement from Chapters 1-32 (which castigate the people for abandoning God to idolatry) to Chapters 33-48 (which include stirring visions of renewal). x
  • 20
    Jewish Identity and Rebuilding after Exile
    [Ezra, Nehemiah, Jonah] What did it mean to be Jewish after the Babylonian Exile? Professor Koester examines biblical books that offer differing perspectives. On one end: Ezra and Nehemiah, which define Israel by the temple, Jewish law, and Jerusalem. On the other: Jonah, where Israel's identity is defined by the way it relates to the other peoples around it. x
  • 21
    Esther, Daniel, and Life under Empire
    [Esther, Daniel] Delightful and playful, the books of Esther and Daniel tell stories of life under the Babylonian, Median, Persian, and Greek empires. Here, you'll learn how these two important biblical heroes respectively illustrate the value of human initiative and the call for resistance against injustice and oppression. x
  • 22
    Resistance, Adaptation, and the Maccabees
    [1 Maccabees] Dive into Jewish life under Greek rule in the 2nd century BC in 1 Maccabees. View the struggle for Jewish independence as a dramatic story marked by the tension between resistance and adaptation. Also, consider the debate over whether or not this book truly belongs in the Bible. x
  • 23
    Jesus as Messiah in Mark
    [Mark 1-10] Begin your look the New Testament with the first of several lectures on the four gospels-the narratives of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In Mark (which was likely the first to be written), you'll be reintroduced to the powerful story that continues to captivate people around the world. x
  • 24
    Mark on the Crucifixion and Resurrection
    [Mark 11-16] Continue examining the gospel of Mark, this time focusing on the infamous trial and crucifixion of the Son of God. Also, consider why this gospel ends so abruptly and how it suggests to readers the mystery of God's kingdom-and the role of suffering and sacrifice within it. x
  • 25
    The Dynamics of Forgiveness in Matthew
    [Matthew] Learn how Matthew reshaped the story of Jesus in startling new ways, specifically with its ideas on forgiveness. Start by confronting Jesus's relationship to Israel's heritage. Then, read between the lines of the iconic Sermon on the Mount. Finally, examine the coexistence of faith and doubt during Jesus's resurrection. x
  • 26
    Luke on a World Upside Down
    [Luke] The gospel of Luke is home to some of the New Testament's best-loved passages. Here, Professor Koester asks you to consider the more subversive dimensions of Luke's narrative. How do the inaugural sermon at Nazareth and the parables of the good Samaritan and the prodigal son challenge established patterns? How do they demonstrate the values espoused by Jesus? x
  • 27
    John on the Word Made Flesh
    [John 1-12] In the first of two lectures on the gospel of John, probe the first 12 chapters of this book's poetic prose, which takes readers back to the dawn of time. What does it mean for Jesus to embody the word of God in the flesh? Consider possible answers in this most distinctive account of Jesus's life. x
  • 28
    Self-Giving Love According to John
    [John 13-21] If Jesus is the giver of life, how does his crucifixion fit into the New Testament's larger spiritual narrative? To consider this question, you'll have to find new ways to think about events like the Last Supper, the Farewell Discourses, the crucifixion itself, and the story of doubting Thomas. x
  • 29
    The Early Church in Acts
    [Acts 1-10] Turn to subsequent texts of the New Testament, which take up the struggle to understand Jesus and what it means to live by his message. The Acts of the Apostles, you'll find, is a fascinating narrative that shows the Christian community being transformed as it welcomed Jews, Greeks, and Romans. x
  • 30
    Paul's Calling
    [Acts 9-17] One of early Christianity's most controversial figures is Paul. In this look at the apostle's life and mission, you'll learn how to see his preaching as an extension of older biblical texts and an attempt to connect the new Christian faith to other belief systems and patterns of life. x
  • 31
    Paul and the Roman Empire
    [Acts 17-28, 1 Thessalonians] Paul's travels to cities like Corinth and Philippi, and his letters to the Christian communities there, offer a lens into the relationship between early Christianity and the Roman Empire. From conflicts between Jesus's kingship and Roman imperial rule to the events of Paul's imprisonment, consider some narrative and spiritual challenges faced by the writer of Acts. x
  • 32
    Paul's Letters to a Community in Conflict
    [1 and 2 Corinthians] While in Ephesus, Paul wrote letters now known as 1 and 2 Corinthians to the Christian community of Corinth. Here, unpack the four major sections of these two iconic letters to a conflicted community, which offer insights into Paul's views on the cross, the Holy Spirit, the resurrection, and reconciliation. x
  • 33
    Freedom and the Law in Paul's Letters
    [Galatians, Romans] Continue your exploration of Paul's letters, this time by studying the correspondence he wrote to the Galatians and the Romans. In these letters, you'll find some of Paul's most provocative ideas about freedom and law-ideas that would play a profound role in shaping subsequent Christian communities. x
  • 34
    Paul on Gender Roles and Slavery
    [Philippians, Philemon, Ephesians, 1 Timothy] What did Paul have to say about women and about slaves? We find different viewpoints in the letters known as Philippians, Philemon, Ephesians, and 1 Timothy. How do these texts relate social roles to Christian love? How might they reflect patterns of community life that were changing over time? x
  • 35
    Letters for Sojourners
    [Hebrews, James, 1 Peter] Paul wasn't the only letter writer in the New Testament. Join Professor Koester for a discussion of the books of Hebrews, James, and 1 Peter, which sought to comfort and inspire early Christian outsiders through keeping the faith, focusing on integrity, and questioning what it means to belong."" x
  • 36
    Revelation's Vision of New Creation
    [Revelation] Conclude the course with a lecture on perhaps the most evocative, unsettling, and yet hopeful book in the Bible: Revelation. After considering the narrative's vivid word pictures, dramatic plot, and unforgettable characters, you'll see how Revelation fits into a comprehensive, informed reading of the entire Bible. x

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Your professor

Craig R. Koester

About Your Professor

Craig R. Koester, Ph.D.
Luther Seminary
Dr. Craig R. Koester is the Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary. He attended St. Olaf College and Luther Seminary, then earned his Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary in New York before returning to Luther Seminary to teach. He has been a visiting professor at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, a scholar-in-residence at the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, New Jersey,...
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Reviews

Reading Biblical Literature: Genesis to Revelation is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 61.
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Bad Job If there were a way for this to be worse I don't know how to arrange it. The talks were obviously cut down from longer lectures, sometimes done so badly that the cut would take place in the middle of a word! Really i need a refund.
Date published: 2016-11-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not what I expected Perhaps I did not read the description carefully enough, but I don't remember anything that told me this was a 100 level course at best. As such, it was well taught. Being a mixture of literary criticism and explanation and a bit of theology, it did not suit the bill for someone looking for a new slant on this greatest of all books. I should add I have not finished the course, but am well into it and doubtful I shall get to the end.
Date published: 2016-11-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging "These lectures empower you to engage." ...so says the intro blurb to this course. The approach is clear and intelligent. The professor's willingness to ask hard questions of the text, and to take a non-defensive nor dismissive stance gives the student a chance to honestly interact with the Biblical text in a non-threatening nor coercive way. There seems to be no axe to grind, nor deep anger to assuage. This is a good balance to Bart Erdman's many courses which are also intellectually stimulating and informative but invite less of an interaction with the hard questions. I would buy another course by Koester in a heartbeat. I first streamed it on GteatCoursesPlus, but was taking so much time writing down notes that I decided to buy the course so I could have the guidebook, a decision that has proved well worth the money.
Date published: 2016-10-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Will review later Just got it so will be reviewed later .Every course I've done so far has been awesome !
Date published: 2016-09-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A Serious Disappointment The course mainly consists of potted plot summaries of the various books of the Bible. One could get exactly the same information just by reading the books in question on one's own. These lectures don't allow a lot. In addition, the lecturer is not a good speaker. I simply can't pay attention to what he is saying for long periods of time.
Date published: 2016-09-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Well-Done Overview; Read the Course Description! I enjoyed and appreciated this course as a well-presented overview of many (not all) of the books of the Bible. These are summarized and discussed as individual works - which is exactly what the course description offers. I mention this because a few of the negative reviews seem to reflect disappointment that the course was not something else entirely. True, the literary analysis is not deep. But the course serves well as either an introduction to or review of the most important biblical writings. Many other Great Courses are available which ably delve more deeply into various aspects of ancient Judaism and Christianity. I particularly appreciated that, with some exceptions, our professor left us with open questions regarding possible ways in which the writings may be interpreted, rather than pat answers from his own personal and religious perspective. For me, as an atheist with a deep respect for the positive aspects of religion, this is the most fulfilling way to approach any religious text. I agree with others that Prof. Koester is rather easy on some of the horrors in the Bible, such as the holocaust of the Flood, God's order to Joshua to commit genocide, the story of Job and the destruction of his innocent family, Elijah's slaughter of 300 priests of Baal, and the institution of slavery. He does comment that he finds these things troubling, but that's about it. I think, though, that we can figure out how best to respond to these episodes by ourselves. I found Lecture 35, on three of Paul's letters, to be unexpectedly moving. And, as has been mentioned by another, Lecture 36 on Revelation is exceptionally well-done and fascinating. Prof. Koester is deeply knowledgeable and well-organized, and he speaks eloquently. The significant exceptions here, also as mentioned in another review, are his frustratingly long pauses between sentences. The video has some helpful maps and interesting artistic depictions, but little would be lost by taking the audio instead. The Course Guidebook is quite complete, and has an annotated bibliography. (Of course, no glossary or timeline or index. Come on, TGC people - would it really be that expensive to add these back to our guidebooks??) So - I recommend this course for what it is - a well-done introduction to, or review of, many of the books of the Bible, as individual books rather than as part of a coherent whole, and for the purpose of leaving open questions for the student to consider, rather than as a fully developed religious or literary perspective. Although I was familiar with almost all of this material before taking the course, I found my time spent here to be very worthwhile.
Date published: 2016-08-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Bible as Storytelling As one should expect from the title, Dr. Koester gives an overview of the Christian Bible analyzing it as literature much like Dr. Vandiver analyzes the Illiad and the Oddyssey as literature. He uses a Critical approach as opposed to a perspective of faith. This is a missed opportunity. The importance of the Bible is not its impact as s collection of stories (like a book of nursery rhymes) but rather how it moved people of faith (who typically disagreed on what that faith should be). Other Great Courses analyze religions and religious issues from the perspective of people of faith whether or not the instructor or the student agrees with that perspective. This approach gives the student insight into the broader world; failure to take this approach with this course diminishes its usefulness. Although there is some cross reference, each book of the Bible is generally considered as a self-standing story. Thus, there is no integrated development of Biblical themes. The presentation was a distraction although surmountable. The instructor talks in a halting manner, pausing for 1-3 seconds after each sentence and often in the middle of a sentence as well.
Date published: 2016-08-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from If I'm a dust ball, the sky above must be a sofa. Every week thousands of film critics assign stars to upcoming movies. Literary critics have been doing the same with plays and novels for ages. For most of us, "evaluation" and "ranking" is the very definition of criticism. But many decades ago, some critics developed more "scientific" aspirations. Literature as a collective phenomena was more than just entertainment. It was an exercise in sense-making through SIMILES, METAPHORS and STORYTELLING. Could "reality as mirrored in literature" (mimesis) or "the mind grappling with reality and communicating through collective cultural symbols" be studied systematically? Religions too were mostly stories. Could biblical accounts, stripped of religious apology, be studied critically? We do it for Chinese and Indian myths. Why not the Bible? ______________________ Literary analysis of this kind is done in a bewildering variety of ways. To name just a few, some approaches are • MIMETIC: Literature reflects some aspect of external reality as perceived by the community. What was that reality for the original biblical writers? How different is it from reality as we now see it? • AUTHOR-CENTERED: Who were they? Do the texts betray an "intent"? Since the Bible is an anthology of texts made up of smaller fragments spliced together by anonymous committees, this approach is sometimes hard to apply. • READER RESPONSE: Some scholars are more interested in how various groups through the ages interpreted the texts and applied them politically, ethically, spiritually, etc., etc. Such scholars usually rely on a "methodology" associated with an ideological framework to separate wheat from chaff, such as Marxism, feminism, Jungian psychology and so on. This list is very partial. How does this course fit into this? _________________________ Dr. Koester's READING BIBLICAL LITERATURE follows mostly a "reader response" approach, but his methodology is not clearly stated at the beginning. You have to carefully listen though the whole thing, especially Lecture 34, to appreciate his point of view. But first some basic facts: • 75% of each lecture is plot summary. The "response" is Koester's own. He interprets and judges. Occasionally he discerns "creative tensions" between conflicting metaphors and values. • These biblical plotlines are explained in simple literary terms — character traits (including God's), motivations, obstacles, results, recurrent motifs, etc.. • Christian claims that New Testament (NT) events "fulfill" Old Testament (OT) prophecies and sayings are mentioned, but not taken too seriously. The OT made sense on its own for early Hebrews. Original Sin is also absent from Genesis. But something puzzled me. On many occasions, he fudges explicit OT values when they contradict modern ones. A few examples .... • The Genesis story where Eve is created from Adam's rib and then induces him to eat a piece of the forbidden fruit after first sampling it herself has been used for millennia by Jews and Christians to justify patriarchal gender relations. Koester's response is to say that the fruit incident precipitated a shift from "the mutuality of men and women" to "male domination". Whaaaat? This progressive interpretation is nice, but are we really learning about how ancient Hebrews saw the world? • Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac and the story of Job who loses everything because of a wager between God and Satan are never explained in terms the original writers might have understood. Again he mentions "tensions", but at the end of the day it's all about us projecting our values into stories we want to keep. • Slavery was a fact of life all through the Old and New Testament. Despite all the space taken by repetitious stories in these holy texts, at no point is it clearly stated that slavery AS AN INSTITUTION is unacceptable. Nor did early Christians perceive an anti-slavery message in these texts. As late as St Augustine (354-430 AD), everyone thought slavery was inevitable. • When Joshua leads the Hebrews into Canaan, God orders the complete annihilation of the local population (including the cattle). Even later when Saul creates the first kingship, he displeases God and loses the throne primarily because he sees no point in destroying everyone and everything associated with the enemy. These last two points were ancient values at the time. Koester, however, senses more "tension" in these accounts between reality and ideals. And indeed, Job in particular has attracted an enormous amount of commentary through the ages. Unfortunately, these issues are not addressed in this course, perhaps for lack of time. Then in Lecture 34, his methodology is finally clarified. He pleads for "responsible reading." Since the central event in Exodus is escape from Egypt, the Bible implicitly condemns slavery even though no one in the story makes this connection. The same goes for gender relations. He cherry picks among texts to find an acceptable moral stand and assumes the rest is aberration. His "reader response" as lecturer, therefore, is "Christianity Lite" — a modern, enlightened, culturally-sensitive, progressive version of the faith. BIBLICAL LITERATURE is primarily an exercise in Christian apologetics, not literary analysis. Koester has a perfect right to believe what he wants, but as a guide to the Bible, his willingness to fudge disagreeable values skews the portrait we get of ancient Hebrew and Christian thinking. The "otherness" of the past is rubbed out so that the text may keep on inspiring us ethically and spiritually. ______________________ Two other TGC courses may help clarify what BIBLICAL LITERATURE does and doesn't do. Cynthia Chapman's THE WORLD OF BIBLICAL ISRAEL examines the Hebrew Bible (i.e. most of the Old Testament) as a response to the Babylonian Captivity, a national calamity that threatened the ideological structure of Ancient Judaism. How could they enjoy the support of the most powerful god and yet suffer defeat and deportation? They edited the Old Testament texts to answer this issue as best they could even though it misrepresented many facets of Jewish religious practice. Jodi Magness' JESUS AND HIS JEWISH INFLUENCES emphasizes the importance of purity requirements in Jesus' thought. Judaism has always been much more "orthopractic" than Christianity. Ancient Judaism was a religion where ritual obligations spoke much louder than true beliefs about God's nature. Neither of these two important facets of Judaism are really alluded to in BIBLICAL LITERATURE even though they greatly influenced how biblical stories were interpreted by ancient readers. _______________________ Long story short, this is a modern, progressive interpretation of a text still in daily use among Christians. Literary analysis adds flavor, but is not the main point. PRESENTATION is very good. Dr. Koester is a very concise, clear speaker. The guidebook is also an excellent summary, even though his bibliography omits many books on the Bible as literature that I thought important such as Northrop Frye's "The Great Code", Karen Armstrong's "A History of God" and Jack Miles' "God, A Biography". Is it worth the expense and time? There are tons of biblical resources out there. If all you want is a quick summary of the main stories, check out the relevant "For Dummies" or "Idiot's Guide" books. They are surprisingly complete. What Dr Koester adds is a memorable presentation, an unusually clear summary of the Book of Revelation, and a progressive perspective on the Bible. He also gives listeners a good feel for the ebb and flow of obedience and rebellion, faith and doubt within the Old Testament. Given his de-emphasis of the New Testament as prophetic fulfillment for many Old Testament stories, however, Jesus' life and sayings seem like a contrived add-on. The two testaments no longer share a clear common purpose. If literary analysis is your main interest, stay away. Every text in BIBLICAL LITERATURE is interpreted through the lens of modern sensibilities to serve contemporary spiritual aspirations.
Date published: 2016-08-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Provides grest insights I agree with the other "high star" ratings and can not add much to them. I purchased Professor Levine's "The Old Testament" and Professor Gafni's "Beginnings of Judaism" many years ago. I pulled those two courses out of my library and reviewed them along with this course. I suggest doing those two courses along with this one. Each professor adds details and insights that the other two do not. ( This course goes into the New Testament and Christianity also; but has important insights into the Old Testament as almost 2/3 is devoted to the Old Testament.)
Date published: 2016-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Presentation I am listening to Professor Koester's presentation of Reading the Bible. I am very impressed! He speaks very well and clearly, and presents the Biblical stories in a very meaningful and thought provoking manner. I recommend it very much.
Date published: 2016-07-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I learned so much! I really enjoyed his presentation. I learned so much at my own pace! I'm obsessed now with learning the bible! Thank you!
Date published: 2016-07-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Quite disappointed Let's be clear that the course title is not "Reading the Bible AS Literature". A few TGC courses take an approach much more along those lines, such as The World of Biblical Israel (6325), in which Dr. Chapman basically discusses the biblical texts from history, sociology, political science and cultural anthropology perspectives. I've bought about 35 TGC courses on religion and related topics like Holy Land Revealed (archaeology) and C. S. Lewis. This is the first one that I found quite disappointing. For the most part, the professor gives an overview of individual books, as if the listener had little or no knowledge of the Bible. The presentation is about high school level for students who haven't read the text. He basically summarizes SOME of the stories in the particular book. In the later lectures he gives both a summary and a little historical background. The introductory materials in study Bibles routinely go into much more detail. The Bible has a significant number of recurring or overarching themes such as: the relationship between man and God; afterlife; sin and "salvation"; the relationship between "God the Father", Jesus, and the Holy Spirit; resurrection; predictive prophecy; covenants; the Messiah; the special role of Israel and the Jewish people in God's plans; God's role in various historical events. The Bible uses techniques that are not limited to an individual book, such as "types and shadows", i.e., a particular person such as Joseph in Egypt or Moses is a "type" that "foreshadows" a later person, generally considered in Christianity to be Jesus, and fulfilled predictive prophecies. Christianity points to numerous Old Testament passages such as the "Suffering Servant" passage of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 and claims they are prophecies about Jesus. THOSE are the kinds of things I expected to be discussed in a course on "Reading Biblical Literature". The professor's narrow book-specific approach basically winds up as, "Can't see the forest for the trees." There should have been a foundation of about 2-3 lectures giving an overview of the Torah, the same for the historical books, 2 for the prophetic books and 2 for the wisdom literature, then with that base several lectures discussing concepts and themes, then go on to the New Testament, and a final group of lectures tying it all together, including 1-2 on how the Bible and biblical themes have influenced politics, literature and philosophy. Also, contrary to common belief, rabbis and Jewish scholars DO study the New Testament too, because often it is the only source of information about particular events or practices, and they often point out that particular views and practices common in Judaism were also advocated by Jesus and his followers--so Jewish perspectives of New Testament literature should also be discussed. I do hope that TGC will put together another course that does take more of a "theological / thematic / interpretive" approach to "Reading Biblical Literature". I suggest someone like Amy-Jill Levine or Luke Timothy Johnson or Phillip Cary or William R. Cook.
Date published: 2016-07-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyed all of these courses very much. All exceeded expectations!
Date published: 2016-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This course adds perspective This course is excellent for students of the Bible in that it covers each book so that you can get a historical perspective on each story and character. It also covers the prophetic books thoroughly so you understand their place on history's timeline. It also covers the Biblical stories from several perspectives so you can see the humanity in each account.
Date published: 2016-07-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from very satisfied with this course This presentation takes a non-religious viewpoint without being anti-Christian, It is exactly as the title suggests. a literary overview, The professor obviously knows the Holy Bible very well, I purchased the video. but the audio would work just as well,
Date published: 2016-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good introduction to major points of the Bible This is a good course, especially if you plan on reading the Bible itself. It gives you a good outline of the high points, key content, and major concepts. The instructor has excellent delivery and gives considerable insight to what the Bible is saying. However, this course is not a substitute for actually reading the actually Bible, However, the instructor helps you understand what you are reading better and what to look for.
Date published: 2016-07-13
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Didn't like the approach taken by the professor When I first saw this course I thought this is exactly what I've been waiting for. The Great Courses offer some very well-thought out courses on religion but there didn't seem to be one that covered all or most of the books of the Bible from a literary perspective. However, after finishing this course I wish the professor would've taken a different approach. Specifically one that involved discussing all of the major events in each of the books and for the most part in the order they appear in the traditional Bible. Instead, while he covered most of the books he did so out of order and chose to focus on a specific aspect of a book and discussed the events in the book that relate to that point vs. a chronological approach to the stories in the books and then discussing themes. I love good analysis of unifying themes but I thought this type of course would first concentrate on all of the major contents of the books themselves. If you are interested in topics such as the Bible offering different perspectives on a similar topic, character analysis, and the dynamics of the early formation of Christian communities then this just may be the course for you. On those merits the course was well done. However, that wasn't what I thought I'd be getting. the title of the course gave the impression (to me at least) that it would contain more in-depth summaries of the books. Based on those expectations the course did not meet what I thought was the intended objective. Highlights: • The professor calls out that the most revered of Bible heroes (Abraham, Jacob, etc.) are actually portrayed as very flawed humans at times in the Bible narrative and provides examples; It is their human foibles that makes them so fascinating • The professor brought an interesting perspective on the wisdom books in Lecture 13: The books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job present three different takes on the meaning of life and to what extent we can control our destinies • An Interesting take on the book of Mark: the professor’s main theme centered on the nature of the kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus; The professor explains how Jesus revealed its nature, how it was redefined from traditional Jewish views, and how it evolved from restoration of life/healing to forgiveness and to service Minuses: • Not every book of the Bible was covered (1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Song of Solomon, Joel, Obadiah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Philippians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, Titus, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude) • Not every story in the books that were discussed ended up being covered (i.e. the fallen angels, Noah’s drunkenness, and Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis); The professor chose to focus on a specific aspect of a book and discussed the events in the book that relate to that point vs. a chronological approach to the stories in the books and then discussing themes • The professor chose to discuss the books in historical order vs. their traditional order in the Bible (for example Amos and Hosea were covered before Isaiah, Proverbs before 2 Kings, Isaiah before Ezra, etc.); This type of format would seem more applicable if the course was about the history of biblical times vs. literature study; The hopping around was a little disorienting for one well-versed in Bible structure/book sequence
Date published: 2016-07-11
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